Mkhize adds his flavour to clas­sics

Sunday World - - News - BON­GANI MAHLANGU

PI­ANIST, song­writer and ar­ranger Themba Mkhize is un­selfish with his artis­tic tal­ent.

The former mem­ber of Bayete and Sakhile pop­u­lar Afro-fu­sion

– bands of the 1980s has over the

– years demon­strated a good habit of dust­ing off some great South African clas­sics.

Mkhize has given his per­sonal flavour with­out di­lut­ing the

– orig­i­nal taste to tunes that were

– penned and/or per­formed by artists such as the fa­ther of maskandi mu­sic John Phuzu

“shukela Bhengu, Princess Con

” stance Ma­gogo, Cai­phus Se­menya, Phillip Ta­bane, Hugh Masekela, the Soul Broth­ers and Lady­smith Black Mam­bazo.

It there­fore makes sense that Smal Nd­aba and Phyl­lis Klotz made him the mu­si­cal di­rec­tor for their stage play Kwela Bafana+, which is on un­til De­cem­ber 10 at Joburg s Vic­tory The­atre.

’ The pro­duc­tion is set in the 1950s, mean­ing its sto­ry­line at­tempts to bring to the at­ten­tion of the present-day au­di­ence the vibe, the peo­ple and the pop­u­lar songs of the time, such as Nty­ilo Nty­ilo and Mead­ow­lands , from what is gen­er­ally re­garded as the Sophi­a­town era.

We chat­ted with Mkhize on a Sun­day af­ter­noon at his home stu­dio in Malvern, Jo burg, about

’ the project.

Flow­ing smoothly in the back­ground are a num­ber of fa­mil­iar songs Pata Pata, Life is Go­ing On,

– Shosholoza, Mbube and Home­less

– a project he calls a South African Song Book, which he has re­cently com­pleted with a Ger­man big band called SWR.

There s al­ready lots of avail“’ able and un­tapped [do­mes­tic mu­sic] ma­te­rial, so I find it fas­ci­nat­ing that we write song af­ter song when we ac­tu­ally don t have

’ to. We can breathe our own breath into some of our old clas­sics; give them a bit of our feel. In that way our best songs live for­ever, it s part

’ of pre­serv­ing our her­itage,” he says. Peo­ple in the first world

“coun­tries have mas­tered the art of pre­serv­ing their cul­tural her­itage in many ways. You can find re­cent record­ings of classical mu­sic from as far back as 1684. They “study their mu­sic while look­ing at it from all an­gles as a spec­i­men. We can learn from them. Our old mu­sic can also still be avail­able in many ways, whether its in hip hop, mbaqanga, jazz or kwaito, as long as preser­va­tion is the aim.”

Of all the Mzansi clas­sics, Mkhize ap­pears to have an emo­tional at­tach­ment to Mackay Davashe s com­po­si­tion Lakut­shon

’ Ilanga. Over the years he has recorded or pre­sented a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ren­di­tions of the tune

– in­clud­ing for the film Drum and on his al­bum Hands On. It is also part of his cur­rent project.

It is one of the best melodies “ever, Mkhize opines. The thing is

” “with beau­ti­ful melodies they can be sung, played on the sax­o­phone, pi­ano What also draws me to

… Lakut­shon Ilanga is the hid­den or dou­ble mes­sage it car­ri­ers. At face value it s a love song but it also

’ com­mu­ni­cates many mes­sages. Peo­ple were get­ting lost for one rea­son or an­other at the time it was writ­ten.”

Mkhize, who of­ten trav­els to per­form in coun­tries like Ja­pan and Ger­many, says the world out there loves South African mu­sic and sto­ries but knows lit­tle about our her­itage. This says to me that some­one “is not do­ing their job, sell­ing it to the world out there. I don t know

’ who that some­one is, it could be record­ing com­pa­nies, the govern­ment or maybe the mu­si­cians them­selves.”

One of the faults that can be found with many South African mu­si­cians is the ab­sence, in their sys­tem, of a cul­ture of com­ple- ment­ing and sa­lut­ing each other, par­tic­u­larly through per­for­mance, as con­tem­po­raries or ac­knowl­edg­ing those that came be­fore. In­stead many lo­cal artists find it more de­sir­able, ac­cept­able or even cool to mostly af­firm song­writ­ers and or copy per­form­ers from abroad.

The root of the prob­lem, Mkhize reck­ons, can be traced back to when multinational record­ing com­pa­nies first set up shop in this coun­try. Their goal was not to record “na­tives and their mu­sic but to sell for­eign cul­ture. To them it was more like when we get there we

‘ are go­ing to teach them about us and they should for­get about them­selves ’. Record­ing lo­cal artists was an af­ter­thought, in my think­ing, for tax pur­poses. The mu­sic of Sophi­a­town bor­rows a lot from Amer­i­can mu­sic of the 50s and what most of the kids hear to­day is mu­sic from else­where.” Mkhize s singing has its foun

’ da­tion back at school when he sang in a choir in the town­ship of um­lazi in Dur­ban. As one of the naughty boys “with my friend Madoda Zondi, we tried to skip choir prac­tices be­cause we thought it was not cool. But a teacher called Hlatshwayo was in charge of the choir he hap­pened

– to know I played the pi­ano and he made sure I was part of the choir. I must say I learnt a lot about blend­ing and work­ing as a unit of seven or 15 peo­ple in a choir.”

The singing con­tin­ued when Mkhize s tal­ent con­trib­uted to the

’ work of, among oth­ers, Cai­phus Se­menya and Hugh Masekela.

TRUE HOMAGE: Themba Mkhize is the mu­si­cal di­rec­tor of Kwela Bafana+

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